Andrew Gersh

Documentary Editor for the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond
Documentary

The Revolutionary Optimists

Lawyer turned social advocate Amlan Ganguly doesn’t rescue children; he empowers them through education and activism to battle poverty and transform their lives and communities. The Revolutionary Optimists follows Amlan and the children he works with—Shika, Salim, Kajal and Priyanka—as they staunchly fight against the forces that oppress them. Utilizing theater and dance, and supported by Amlan’s own considerable charm and skills of persuasion, these young activists are campaigning for clean water and improved sanitary conditions in their communities and struggling to ensure that children laboring in the brick fields on the outskirts of Calcutta are receiving an education.

Shot over the course of three years, Maren Grainger-Monsen and Nicole Newnham’s film vividly captures the vibrancy of India while taking us on an intimate journey with these children, during which we witness not only the changes they are able to make in their neighborhood, but also the changes within each of them.

The Revolutionary Optimists proposes a workable solution to intractable problems associated with poverty, including preventable diseases and ineffectual governance. Ganguly’s story suggests that education and child empowerment are crucial keys to lifting entire societies out of hopelessness.

Produced and Directed by Nicole Newnham and Maren Grainger-Monsen. The film opens nationwide in March of 2013, screens at ITVS Community Cinema events across the country through the spring, and will have its television premiere on PBS’ Independent Lens June 17th at 10pm (check local listings). Read reviews in The Village Voice and The Hollywood Reporter. The film has been nominated for a 2014 News and Documentary Emmy® Award.

A short film based on The Revolutionary Optimists was shown worldwide as part of TEDxChange, presented by Melinda Gates and developed in partnership with the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program.

SPARK: A Burning Man Story

Each year, 60,000 people from around the globe gather in a dusty windswept Nevada desert to build a temporary city, collaborating on large-scale art and partying for a week before burning a giant effigy in a ritual frenzy. Rooted in principles of self-expression, self-reliance and community effort, Burning Man has grown famous for stirring ordinary people to shed their nine-to-five existence and act on their dreams. Spark takes us behind the curtain with Burning Man organizers and participants, revealing a year of unprecedented challenges and growth. When ideals of a new world based on freedom and inclusion collide with realities of the “default world,” we wonder which dreams can survive.

Writes the New York Times: “The portraits here offer West Coast idealism and conviction coupled with an extravagant aesthetic vision. Since we can’t all attend Burning Man, we can be thankful for “Spark,” which is probably the next best thing.”

SPARK: A Burning Man Story had its world premiere at the 2013 South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin, TX, and has also been accepted to the Ashland Independent and Seattle International film festivals. SPARK is the opening night film of the 2013 SF DocFest  and opens in New York and Los Angeles on August 16th. Produced and Directed by Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter. Read more at the official website.

RARE

When Donna Appell learned that her baby daughter Ashley suffered from a rare genetic disorder that would kill her in 30 years, she was told there were less than 30 people in the US who had been diagnosed with it and no one knew where to find them. Realizing that no one was going to help cure “just one child,” Donna set about forming an advocacy group and harnessing the internet to gather as many patients as possible who suffered from Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome (HPS), which includes albinism, blindness, a bleeding disorder and often a fatal pulmonary fibrosis.

Filmed with intimate access over three years, the film follows Donna and her advocacy group as they travel to Puerto Rico and throughout the US in a race to fill a drug trial they hope could prolong her daughter’s life.

Produced and Directed by Maren Grainger-Monsen and Nicole Newnham. Check your local PBS listings and read more about the film HERE.

SOUND TRACKS: Music Without Borders

SOUND TRACKS: Music Without Borders is a new magazine show dedicated to reporting unheard stories that reveal how music is transforming politics and culture around the globe. The one-hour series pilot crosses three continents and serves up a diverse menu of Russian pop, Afrobeat, Portuguese fado, and symphonic work. Produced by The Talbot Players in association with Oregon Public Broadcasting for PBS. Marco Werman from Public Radio International’s “The World” hosts.

In the featured segment “Black President,” Werman travels to Nigeria to cover the living legacy of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti and meet his youngest son, Seun.
“Black President” was produced by Cassandra Herrman and edited by Andrew Gersh.  Watch the entire segment at PBS/Sound Tracks.

New York Times   San Francisco Chronicle

EXTREME ICE

In collaboration with National Geographic, NOVA follows the exploits of acclaimed photojournalist James Balog and a scientific team as they deploy time-lapse cameras in risky, remote locations in the Arctic, Alaska, and the Alps. Grappling with blizzards, fickle technology, and climbs up craggy precipices, the team must anchor cameras capable of withstanding sub-zero temperatures and winds up to 170 mph. The goal of Balog’s team’s perilous expedition: to create a unique photo archive of melting glaciers that could provide a key to understanding their runaway behavior and their potential to drive rising sea levels. A production of NOVA and National Geographic Television.

Produced and Directed by Noel Dockstader.  Watch the entire film at PBS/NOVA.

READY, SET, BAG!

A celebration of individuality and the spirit of the American working class, READY, SET, BAG! (premiered at festivals as “Paper or Plastic?”) is an award-winning feature documentary following eight grocery-bagging state champions as they prepare for the nationals, held in the Mecca of the American dream, Las Vegas. Rural housewives, college students, awkward teens and lower management duke it out over speed, weight distribution and the X-factor of crushability.

An Ensemble Pictures Production.  Produced by Justine Jacob.  Directed by Justine Jacob & Alex D. da Silva.

ASK NOT

As wars rage in the Middle East, the U.S. military is eager for more recruits–unless they happen to be openly gay. ASK NOT explores the tangled political battles that led to the infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and reveals the personal stories of gay Americans who serve in combat under a veil of secrecy. ITVS Community Cinema screenings will include special presentations and discussions with leading community organizations in over 50 locations around the country. Watch the national broadcast premiere on PBS’ Emmy-award winning series, Independent Lens.   San Francisco Int’l Film Festival

ALONE: Teens in Solitary Confinement

It’s an epidemic of what some call state-sanctioned torture in America: the solitary confinement of thousands of incarcerated teenagers, locked in cells the size of small bathrooms for up to 23 hours a day. ALONE: Teens in Solitary Confinement investigates New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, where unconvicted teens often find themselves confined in ‘the box’ for months at a time. It takes a candid and critical look at one of the most controversial forms of incarceration affecting adolescents in the United States; a form of punishment shrouded in secrecy.

ALONE is featured in the premiere episode of  “REVEAL,” a new, four-part series for public television presented by Oregon Public Broadcasting. It has also shown at film festivals around the world, including the 2014 Social Justice and UNSPOKEN Human Rights film festivals.

ALONE: Teens in Solitary Confinement was produced and directed by Daffodil Altan for the Center for Investigative Reporting. Read more here.

Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness

Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness is a one-hour documentary about a town coming together to take action after anti-immigrant violence devastates the community. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York culminate with the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the Long Island village for 13 years.

Over a two-year period, the story follows Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim’s brother, Joselo Lucero, and Patchogue residents as they openly address the underlying causes of the violence, work to heal divisions, and begin taking steps to ensure everyone in their village will be safe and respected.

Directed by Patrice O’Neill of The Working Group.  Watch the entire film at PBS.org.

In an Ideal World

An intimate and stirring portrait of three men on the front-lines of power and race in America, IN AN IDEAL WORLD goes deep inside a California prison to explore — and honor — the human drama at the core of America’s locked down racial order.

Shot over seven years with unlimited access, IN AN IDEAL WORLD is an immersive story told firsthand, without outside experts or narration. A white warden at ease with authority, a separatist mafioso and a black gangbanger – all three men come from different worlds. Yet all have spent their entire adult lives in prison, sharing a culture of race and power that has, in just that time, institutionalized the American racial landscape in ways that we are only beginning to understand, and that may prove very difficult to undo. Each came into the system very young, learned the convict/cop “codes” from their groups, and over three decades gained power and influence in prison. At the same time, crime control in the U.S. came to rely almost exclusively on locking people up, increasingly and disproportionately people of color.  John, Sam and the warden learned how to navigate prison’s complex, violent and deeply entrenched, racially divided culture, but now find themselves on the cusp of potentially radical change.

Produced and Directed by Noel Schwerin for Backbone Media. Read more here.